Monday, September 15, 2008

Of Cannibals, Lesser Cannibals, and Lesser-Lesser Cannibals

Several fascinating discussions over at Mark Shea's blog have kept me pretty busy lately; I'll be thinking out loud about what's being discussed over there at least a few times this week.

Let me start out by saying that I'm completely in agreement with the principle that Catholics in America today should not have to choose, in our general election, between candidates for higher office (including, but not limited to, the presidency) who support all abortion, some abortion, few abortions, or little abortion--but that there should not be a choice at all for no abortion. It is unjust that our only choices are between those who believe strongly in killing many of the innocent, those who believe in killing some of the innocent, and those who believe in killing some others of the innocent.

But that is the political reality today.

It may be emotionally satisfying to label Barack Obama a "greater cannibal" because he supports such atrocities as partial-birth abortion and infanticide, and John McCain a "lesser cannibal" because he supports ESCR. But both men support the continued governmental funding of abortifacient means of contraception (such as Norplant, Depo-Provera, the Pill, IUDs etc.) for women who qualify for government health care under programs like Medicaid, and in fact no candidate anywhere, not even a doomed quixotic third-party candidate, has come out vocally in opposition of this practice, at least not that I can discover. When we look at those candidates actually running for president in this election, especially the six candidates listed as "major candidates" by Project Vote Smart, we see that most of them would not go so far as to end government funding of abortifacient contraception; it is slightly possible that this gentleman might, though, and for the sake of argument I have contacted his campaign to find out.

In addition to candidates who appear on the ballot, of course, there are some states (all but six, in fact) that allow write-in candidates. The rules vary, but it's theoretically possible that you could, in fact, find a write-in candidate who definitely opposes government funding of abortifacient contraception. This means that you could vote without involving yourself in the mediate remote material cooperation with evil, but you will in no way be attempting to limit the evil of either a greater cannibal or a lesser one actually being elected.

Of course, you don't have to vote for a candidate who has any hope of winning. The doomed quixotic third-party or write-in vote has always, and will always be, an honorable option for the voters of America. But it is absolutely crucial that in making such a selection, one does not eschew the act of voting for the greater or lesser cannibal only to vote for the lesser-lesser cannibal; if one's position is that it is immoral or sinful to support the greater or lesser cannibal, than it must be equally immoral to vote for the lesser-lesser one!

It seems to me that in the various voting guides that have been issued by the Church, the option of voting for a lesser (or even lesser-lesser) cannibal in order to try to limit the harm that the greater cannibal(s) will do if elected is considered a morally possible option. But if you are one of the people who believes that it is never morally possible to vote in a national election for a candidate who supports any type of killing of the innocent, then you must not overlook the killing of the innocent that takes place as part of government-funded contraception, and you must not vote for any person who does not explicitly reject this.

To do otherwise, to vote for a pro-abortifacient-contraceptive, "lesser-lesser cannibal" for government office, is to commit an act of mediate remote material cooperation with evil without even the pretense that one is doing so in hopes of preventing the greater cannibal, or even the lesser one, from being elected (since voting for a doomed quixotic third-party candidate precludes this possibility by definition). At this point it would seem that the important thing is not voting in a morally consistent way, but simply being able to reject both major political parties as being unworthy of the support of any serious follower of Christ. Which they may well be, but one weakens one's position by turning around and voting for a doomed, quixotic, lesser-lesser-but-still-cannibal cannibal.

Now, it should be said that it's possible that the "lesser-lesser" cannibals out there are actually among the greatest, because the number of babies killed by government funded abortifacient contraception could be as great or even greater than the number killed by surgical abortion, though I don't think we can know that for sure. But since all or nearly all candidates support government funding of abortifacient contraception anyway, they're all at least this degree of cannibal, and it's hard to find one who isn't.

Of course, the question as to whether one's only moral choices in elections like these is either to find and vote for (or write-in) some candidate who isn't at all a cannibal, if such can theoretically be found, or else to stay at home and pray that the greatest cannibal isn't actually the one who wins the election, is far from settled as far as I'm concerned. But that's probably a subject for a later post.


John Thayer Jensen said...

One argument in favour of voting for the lesser cannibal might be the effect on the soul of the cannibal. It does seem to me - but I may well be wrong - that there is a difference of degree of intentionality in taking a possibly abortifacient contraceptive versus going into the clinic to have an abortion. In the first case the abortion - even if you know it may happen - seems to me at least a bit more remote than actually, you know, saying that you know you are pregnant and want it 'fixed.'

Not being a moral philosopher, or any other sort of philosopher, I don't know if this makes sense or not...


Rebecca said...

I think your comments are very cogent, as usual. I'd like to see you address the difference the context of the society makes, though--it seems like a society in which certain evils are already in place versus a society free of those evils would make a difference in who you'd vote for. For example, in a society free of abortion and contraception, if the only two viable candidates supported either one or both, it seems as though you couldn't in good conscience vote for either candidate. In a society where both evils are already ingrained, and what you are hoping for is a reversal, and it is most likely that the reversal is going to *begin* on the level of abortion rather than contraception, it would make sense to vote for the candidate dedicated to opposing abortion but confused on the issue of contraception, as long as he is not dedicated to increasing the scope of contraception as well. I am not impressed with McCain, but right now I am feeling desperately that we must, must keep Obama out of office, and for that reason McCain will have my vote. Maybe I am misguided in that desperation. I'd be happy to see more of your thoughts on this matter.

John Thayer Jensen said...

Rebecca, you have said it pretty much as I see it. Not voting, when one could, is as much of an action as voting.

That said, there are some actions that simply cannot be taken. As between two strongly pro-abortion candidates, maybe not voting is the best I could do to express my views - or voting for an unelectable third-party candidate.

In my case I justify my not voting in this election to the fact that if my wife and I voted, it would be as from Hawai'i, which is the last place we lived in the U.S. - and there is no question who will win in Hawai'i :-) But maybe I am wrong? The thing is, it is a real pain to try and vote from here. We have to go through several hoops, including convincing Hawai'i that we did live there as the address we lived at no longer exists!


Red Cardigan said...

Not only that, John, but unless I'm mistaken Hawaii is one of the six states that doesn't allow write-in candidates, so you'd be stuck voting for Obama or McCain anyway.

Tim J. said...

Have you heard that McCain may have recently taken a more principled stand against ESCR?